Volume 10: Follow-up Questions
Here are two helpful questions that were sent to me that I think are worth answering publicly.
Can you help clarify what constitutes a mortal sin and when confession is warranted without mortal sin? Should venial sins be confessed? If so, how?
In Saint John’s first letter in the New Testament, he distinguishes between sin that is deadly and sin that is not deadly (1 John 5:16- 17). As Catholics, therefore, we also recognize the distinction between deadly sin (mortal sin) and non-deadly sin (venial sin). Our Tradition sees mortal sin as sin which “kills” the life of grace in the soul, whereas venial sin “wounds” the life of grace in the soul. (It’s helpful to think in terms of relationship). The Church gives us three conditions that need to be present for a sin to be mortal: 1.) The sin must involve some matter that is grave or serious. 2.) The person must have full knowledge that what they’re doing is wrong; 3.) The person must freely choose to do it anyways. When these three conditions are not met, the sin is considered to be venial. The Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully weighs in on the question of confessing venial sins: Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed, the regular confession of our venial sins helps us (1) form our conscience, (2) fight against evil tendencies, (3) let ourselves be healed by Christ and (4) progress in the life of the Spirit (CCC 1458). In other words, confessing venial sins can be a great opportunity to receive grace and healing through the unique and real grace of the Sacrament. The enemy of our souls likes for our sins to be kept hidden in the dark—bringing them to Confession is one way to let Jesus shed His light on us.
I have grown spiritually and the sins I have confessed in the past are no longer a problem. I am troubled by this. I don’t know what else to confess so I think there must be something I am not understanding.
The first thing to say is, “Praise God!” It is always good to be able to recognize tangible growth in the spiritual life through seeing real detachment from sins that we used to struggle with more—this is a grace of God and a testament to your own generous heart! The second thought though is to recall that the Lord is always calling us deeper—He always has more that He wants to give us. If you find yourself at a point like this in your relationship with the Lord, perhaps one thing you could do is seek out (more of) the writings of the Saints, especially the Doctors of the Church. Saint Teresa of Avila writes beautifully about progress in prayer and the spiritual life; Saint Alphonsus Liguori has some wonderful treatises on the moral life; and Saint Therese of Lisieux...well, who can read her writings and not benefit spiritually from her? The Lord is always calling us, summoning us deeper into friendship with Him, and the Saints remind us of the riches that God wants to bestow on each of us.
By Father Michael Bovino